BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The Alabama Department of Education will take over the Birmingham school system on Wednesday after the Birmingham Board of Education tonight declined to pass a cost-cutting plan.
After months of stalling and delaying a state financial plan that included mass layoffs, the Birmingham Board of Education officially rejected it tonight.
State Superintendent Tommy Bice said during a telephone interview tonight — after a more than three-hour Birmingham school board meeting — that he will formally intervene in the district’s operations Wednesday morning. The intervention will include the appointment of a chief executive officer and chief financial officer who will run the day-to-day operations of the district.
“Because of the resolution that was passed by the state Board of Education, we will begin full intervention tomorrow,” Bice said. The state school board authorized Bice nearly two weeks ago to intervene in Birmingham’s operations if it failed to pass a financial plan at tonight’s board meeting.
Immediately following the 4-4 vote, in which board members Edward Maddox, Tyrone Belcher, Virginia Volker and Emanuel Ford voted against the plan and April Williams abstained, the board voted 5-4 to direct its attorneys to “protect the interests of the board.”
Former state Superintendent Ed Richardson, who is leading a state investigation into the district’s finances, academics and board governance, said the board’s threat of a lawsuit will not slow the intervention process.
“Financial intervention has occurred 12 or 15 times,” he said. “The process has clearly been established. This is not something new.”
The board meeting became chaotic at times, with board members not only arguing with each other, but some chastising Superintendent Craig Witherspoon.
Some board members said they didn’t know a plan submitted to the state that outlined how the district planned to build a $17 million reserve fund had been rejected because Witherspoon didn’t tell them.
“The board entrusted you with a financial plan,” board member Alana Edwards said to Witherspoon. “I hold you responsible for this.”
Each of 31 school systems that doesn’t have a required one-month reserve fund was required to turn in plans to the state by May 1 on how it planned to build the fund. Birmingham, which has about $2 million of the $17 million required, turned in an outline of the plan that didn’t include specifics, such as positions that would be eliminated or dollar amounts attached to the cuts. In light of a state investigation team looking into the district’s finances, the state extended its deadline for Birmingham to turn in a more detailed plan.
Edwards, Volker and Ford said they didn’t know the state had asked Birmingham for a more detailed plan.
Before the board’s vote, Richardson spoke to the board and asked it to consider delaying the start of school because staffing wouldn’t be in place by the Aug. 20 start date. He also asked the board to rescind a policy that allows demoted employees to keep their current salaries for one year.
The proposed plan was supposed to cut $12.3 million from the district’s budget that included mass layoffs, particularly among lower-paid staff.
According to the plan, the higher-paid assistant superintendents would keep their jobs under a director’s title at a lesser salary, although they would have kept their current salaries for one year because of a district policy. Many lower-paid employees, including instructional aides, clerical workers and attendance officers, would have lost their jobs.